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Tampa Bay’s hotel occupancy is top in U.S. compared to before pandemic

For most of October, no U.S. travel market has matched the region in getting rates back to 2019 levels.
Guests pack the pool at the Hollander Hotel in St. Petersburg in June. Hotel occupancy in Tampa Bay has been on a steady upswing throughout the pandemic, and is now nearly back to matching 2019 levels, according to hospitality data and analytics firm STR.
Guests pack the pool at the Hollander Hotel in St. Petersburg in June. Hotel occupancy in Tampa Bay has been on a steady upswing throughout the pandemic, and is now nearly back to matching 2019 levels, according to hospitality data and analytics firm STR. [ MENGSHIN LIN | Times ]
Published Oct. 28
Updated Oct. 28

Tampa Bay still isn’t packing hotel beds at the same rate it did before the pandemic. But lately, compared to other cities and markets, it’s doing better than anyone.

For the third straight week, Tampa Bay has ranked No. 1 among the nation’s top 25 travel markets when comparing hotel occupancy rates to 2019, according to hospitality data and analytics firm STR.

For the week ending Oct. 23, Tampa Bay came closer than any other U.S. market to matching its hotel numbers from the same week in 2019, with its 68.5 percent occupancy rate falling just 3.1 percent short. The market also fell about 3 percent short for the week ending Oct. 16, and about 3.5 percent short for the week ending Oct. 9. That, too, is better than other U.S. destinations.

Nationally, hotel occupancy was down 9.1 percent for the week ending Oct. 23, with Hawaii’s Oahu Island and California’s San Francisco and San Mateo region both down the most, at 39.7 percent.

And while Tampa Bay’s occupancy rates for the past three weeks were down around 3 percent compared to 2019, the area has added many more beds since then. In Hillsborough County alone, room inventory is up 11.3 percent, or around 2,500 rooms.

“If you take those off the table, we’re blowing away 2019 in terms of visitation,” said Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay.

The region has done it largely without international travel. In early November, the U.S. will reopen its borders to vaccinated travelers from Canada, Mexico and much of Europe for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

“When you add those international visitors, and we start seeing the weather turn, and we’ve got so many conventions on the board, those numbers are really going to be out of the ballpark,” Corrada said.

Related: Tampa airport sets express curbside check-in for flyers without checked bags

Tampa Bay’s high occupancy rates have also translated into more revenue per room than most other markets. With average daily room rates rising from $103.52 in 2019 to $138.33 last week, Tampa Bay has seen the nation’s highest increase in revenue per room for three straight weeks, boosting 2019 earnings as much by as 12.6 percent. In July, Hillsborough hotels brought in a record $69.2 million in taxable income, up 26 percent from the same month in 2019.

“I think we’re going to see week-over-week (occupancies) over 2019 really, really soon,” Corrada said. “I hate to guesstimate going into the holidays, because those are tricky, November-December. But certainly in the new calendar year, oh yeah. After the first, we’re going to be humming.”